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Voters guides help faith groups make decisions

Friday, October 31, 2008 | 3:26 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Voters guides geared toward Catholics United Methodists and Muslims are among just a few of the resources available for people of faith who seek information on key issues before the Nov. 4 election.

While houses of worship typically don't endorse political candidates in election cycles, they often publish guides for congregants to use before heading to the voting booth. Some groups see the guides as an endorsement for voting, not an endorsement of any party or candidate.

A voters guide "helps people understand their baptismal call to be involved in the political process," said the Rev. Bob Kelly of the St. Thomas More Newman Center.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published "Forming Consciences of Faithful Citizenship" in 2007 to inform Catholics about key election issues. The guide is consistently published in the years prior to presidential elections. Faithful Citizenship, according to the document, was a part of "the church's obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society."

Faithful Citizenship details the church's opinion on many issues, such as abortion and marriage. It encourages Catholic voters to use Catholic teaching to assess the candidates.

Kelly used "Faithful Citizenship" during an event called "Decision 2008: Where Faith Meets the Issues, Revisited." The event's purpose was to educate attendees about the church's stance on issues based on "Faithful Citizenship" and issues raised by the Missouri Catholic Conference, a statewide lobbying group for Catholics. The Missouri Catholic Conference guide also includes information about statewide issues and races, not just national ones.

"The point ... was to help people form conscience so they had some take on where the church stands when they go to the voting booth," he said.

Kelly said he believes members look at what the  Catholic Church says, but he knows some issues are more important to some individuals than others.

"They're more focused on one or two issues and not an overall perspective of the voting issues," he said.

An August 2008 survey from the Pew Forum said 66 percent of the public does not think churches or other houses of worship should endorse a candidate. And few groups in mid-Missouri are using the guides this year.

Whether houses of worship choose to use the guides is a local decision. The United Methodist Church Central Board of Church and Society created a comparative chart to help educate members of the denomination about election issues.

The chart compares both the Republican and Democratic parties' stances on issues against those listed in the United Methodist "Social Principles" and Book of Resolutions. The chart and complementary bulletin inserts look at issues such as abortion, economic and environmental justice, and disabilities.

Diana Mooney, Christian education director at Missouri United Methodist, said the church did not use this guide. Instead, the church held an event with Terry Smith, a political science professor from Columbia College, aimed at educating church members of the political trends in this election, not the church's views.

Several other houses of worship in Columbia have chosen not to use their faith group's voting guides. The Islamic Center of Central Missouri has encouraged people to vote but has not used "Activate ‘08" as a resource.

"Activate '08," printed by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, states six key issues for Muslim Americans, the questions they should be asking and both major party candidates' positions on these issues.

The Columbia United Church of Christ declined to use the denomination's "Our Faith, Our Vote" guide.


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